Mitchell, Andrew 2010 Heidegger Among the Sculptors, reviewed by Eduardo Mendieta

Andrew Mitchell, Heidegger Among the Sculptors: Body, Space, and the Art of Dwelling, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2010, 144 pages, $17.95 paper, ISBN 978-0-8047-7023-1.

The Poetics of Worlding

A book’s impact and depth cannot be anticipated by either its size or length, and sometimes prolixity conceals vacuity or superficiality. Such books resemble those magical places that from outside look small, but from within open out into infinity The Roman Pantheon, as large and imposing as it is seen from outside, vaults into a majestic and immense space that seems to expand and project higher as one walks around its center. Leibniz formalized this experience of borderless space within abodes when he invented the monad, a space that mirrors and contains all other monads and spaces. Jorge Luis Borges, echoing Leibniz, invented the Aleph, a point in space which contains all other points in space, and from which all perspectives can be seen. Mitchell’s “small” book Heidegger Among the Sculptors is like an Aleph, or a Monad, that within its few pages manages to open out onto the work of Heidegger in most original and unsuspecting ways. Mitchell’s book not only opens up Heidegger’s work, in as much as he illustrates how we can and should read him backwards, from the post-Turn work towards the early work, but opens up Heidegger’s work on worldhood, spatiality, embodiment and temporality. The book, thus, is not simply about what Heidegger had to say about three distinct and important sculptors, but also about how the works of these artists enabled Heidegger’s own philosophical insights into the earth and worldhood that allowed him to think Das Geviert as the gathering sheltering that allows beings to be. The book, at the same time, is more than an exegetical or hermeneutical exercise. Mitchell is not simply explaining what Heidegger wrote and poeticized. Mitchell is also offering us a distinctly personal way to understand the worlding of sculptures and works of art that allow us to grasp the co-determination of space between things and human beings.

It should be noted that Mitchell is able to provide us with extremely incisive and elucidating insights into Heidegger’s work because he is a seasoned Heidegger translator. He has recently finished a translation of one of Heidegger’s most challenging texts, and also, some may say, some of his most scandalous. I am referring to Heidegger’s Bremen and Freiburg lectures (GA 79). He has also co-translated Heidegger’s Four Seminars (Indiana University Press, 2003). Since he has just finished a massive study on Heidegger’s concept of Das Geviert, which presently carries the title of The Fourfold: Reading the Late Heidegger, and has published and self-published numerous essays on Heidegger’s later work, it can be safely averred that Mitchell is establishing himself as the most authoritative late Heidegger specialist. But, Andrew is also an artist himself. He is a book designer, and print maker. His artistic sensibility is seen in his design for the recent printed versions of Gatherings, the journal of theHeidegger Circle.

Mitchell’s book, above all, works on three registers, as I noted. First, it serves, very obviously, as a reflection on Heidegger’s engagement with three important sculptors (Ernst Barlach, Benhard Heilinger, and Eduardo Chillida), and in this way, provide us with an insight into the evolution of Heidegger’s late work on art in general, and worldhood and earth, more specifically. Second, it provides us with an overview of Heidegger’s notion of the Fourfold. This books thus serves as a quick introduction to this challenging notion in Heidegger’s philosophical toolbox. Thirdly, it also offers us also a quick and critical reading of Heidegger’s early work, especially the Heidegger of Being and Time. Mitchell shows how many of Heidegger’s later arguments about worldhood, earth, spatiality and temporality are corrections or correctives to earlier formulations. In the following, I want to show how approaching Heidegger as if it were backwards, that is, from the late work towards the early work, we are able to appreciate Heidegger’s own turning, and corrections of his early work, and at the same time, appreciate the way in which this early work was already extremely original. In reading the early work from the standpoint of the later work, we are able to appreciate how early Heideggerian categories failed, and in their failure they illustrate their importance. Later, I want to raise some issues about some silences in Mitchell’s engagement with Heidegger’s work on spatializing, or the spacing of things.

Mitchell argues in the introduction to his book that from Heidegger’s later work we can see how the relationship between Dasein’s spatiality and the being in the world of entities had not been thought through clearly. In Being and Time, Dasein’s spatiality, its facticity, is posterior to being-in-the world in general. Another way of putting it would be to say that Dasein is neutral, or that it is a neutral structure prior to its spatial concretion and dispersal. The way Heidegger puts it is thusly: “Dasein itself has its own “being-in-space,” which in its turn is possible only on the basis of being-in-the-world in general.” (S&Z 56). For Heidegger this means that we can’t derive the spatiality of Dasein from its being bodily, and thus, from its corporeality. Obviously, we can’t derive the ontological from the ontic, though the ontic may be a way to discern the ontological, as SuZ attempts to show. One could say, then, that Dasein is spatial not because it is corporeally embodied, but rather that it is bodily and corporeal because it is spatial, and it is spatial because it is always a being-with, which is a being-in-the world. Here the spatiality of Dasein is ontological, and its ontic dimension becomes secondary. In the later work, however, the spatiality of beings, and entities, and Dasein along with them, will be thought from the embodiments of entities themselves.

A second insight has to do with the critique of what we can call a reductivist and technological conception of space, as it is implied in Dasein’ engagement with either being ready at hand or present at hand entities. In as much as beings are present to us from within a horizon of significance, such beings are always placed and revealed within a space that is determined by Dasein’s vector of attention. In other words, in SuZ, in as much as beings appear from within the entanglement of circumspection and equipmentality, space is always already instrumentalized. Space becomes a Cartesian grid that places entities within a map of Dasein’s concerns.

Thirdly, and following on the prior insight, since beings are revealed from within and made to occupy, a space of utility, this space appears frictionless. Dasein’s spatiality is smooth, continuous, without edges, ridges, or abrasions or tears. If Dasein’s space is domesticated space, it is also the space of the sanitized “frictionless workshop” (7), to use a wonderful express Mitchell coins. As he notes, this is a space eerily devoid of “uncanny” objects and places. In such a world everything is at home, and this home is determined by Dasein’s circumspection.

A fourth insight is consequently revealed, namely that in Sein und Zeit, space is always uni-directional space. It is a space that flows in one direction; whose grain, so to say, follows the vector of Dasein’s concerns and circumspection. Thus, not only is this space devoid of unsettling things but also of places that stop us on our tracks, that render us homeless, that disorient us, commanding us to renegotiate our bearings.

Fifth, and most unsuspectingly, reading Heidegger backwards, as Mitchell does, allows us to discern in the early Heidegger not simply a neglect of the earth, but even an occultation of it. The worldhood of the world is thought only from the standpoint of Dasein. In this way, this earthless world is a potentially anti-ecological thinking. Note for instance this passage in Sein und Zeit:

Hammer, tongs, nails in themselves refer to-they consist- of-steel, iron, metal, stone, wood. “Nature” is also discovered in the use of useful things, “nature” in the light of products of nature. But nature must not be understood here as what is merely objectively present, nor as the power of nature. The forest is a forest of timber, the mountain a quarry of rock, the river is water power, the wind is wind “in the sails.” As the “surrounding world” is discovered, “nature” thus discovered is encountered along with it. We can abstract from nature’s kind of being as handiness; we can discover and define it in its pure objective presence. But in this kind of discovery of nature, nature as what “stirs and strives,” what overcomes us, entrances us as landscape, remains hidden. The botanist’s plants are not the flowers of the hedgerow, the river’s “source” ascertained by the geographer is not the “source of the ground.” (Sein und Zeit 70-Here I am using the Joan Stambaugh translation of Being and Time)

Evidently, this passage is pregnant with meaning that can only be given birth to with the notion of the Fourfold. But, here, at least we can see how Heidegger has perhaps unconsciously already began to critique the instrumentalist, reductivist, and uni-directional conception of space in Being and Time. Above all, here we see at work also the occultation of the earth, in as much as here she remains hidden, but not hidden as that which nonetheless remains concealed in unconcealment. Rather, earth remains hidden as mystery. We can call this early Heideggerian view of space, the chthonic view of space, as a space that remains hidden in the earth and that conceals the earth.

Sixthly, and finally, inchoate in this chthonic view of space is also a one dimensional or foreshortened conception of truth as the interplay between concealment and unconcealment. Truth, in the early work, remains too much enthralled by the shinning of Being as light, that is, truth is reductively conceived as a clearing, lighting within a space that is cleared, in such a way that the earth recedes. This is in line with the reduction of truth as aletheia to Dasein’s granting beings the clearing within which they can appear in or as their being. In the later Heidegger, however, truth is granted through the struggle between world and earth, mortals and divinities that enable the interplay of concealment and unconcealment, the presencing-hiding, the shinning-shadowing that grants as it withdraws. We could say that to the utilitarian, domesticated, instrumentalized space of Dasein, there also corresponds a clearing within which a possessive-dictated truth is revealed as the truth that Dasein grants, or lets forth. And here, truth becomes a caprice of Dasein or Dasein’s historicalspatiality. In contrast, what the later work allows us to grasp is the space of truth, or rather that spacing (raumen) the clearing of truth, is a task, and an endeavor that is negotiated among four. Mitchell puts it eloquently:

The space of the work is no mathematical, scientific, or objective space. It is likewise not thought in distinction from or in opposition to bodies, but instead as participating in the truth with them. This space of truth is itself no empty space, but is a sheltered space guarded by the preserves of the work. It is a changed space, a medium for appearing. The work can only appear as work, in its truth, as a node of relations between earth and world, in just such a sheltered space.” (13-14)

If the later work leads us to think of space as relational space, space as a medium, in which entities radiate and resound, then it also allows us to think of the space of truth as a gathering-sheltering. If space is motility and a thickening mediality, then truth is always fragile, in process, a gift. In this sense, Dasein’ possessive individualism with its concomitant notion of truth, as Dasein’s clearing, gives way to truth as a relational gathering sheltering of mediated concealing unconcealment.

Here, however, in the mode of the critique are also revealed the positives of this new thinking of space, worldhood, and spatiality in the later work. We can sketch this space in terms of a series of adjectives: relational, mediated, thickened, always already temporal. In tandem, and in a co-originary way, space is thought from within bodies. Bodies are not in space, but are of space, would be an apt expression for this later conception of embodied space. This means that space is not prior to bodies, but that bodies space, or spatialized. Space is always being produced through embodiment. A body, therefore, is not simply the place it occupies momentarily, but rather, a distended motility. A body is a passage, and a passing, not a ‘passport’ or an ‘obstacle.’ As Mitchell puts it, a body is a weathering worlding in which we die of the world with the world, within the world. As bodies, we are weathered by our worlds. We are bodies always under erosion because of the world’s own erosion. But if bodies are dwellings that worlds, then bodies are dwellings that erode as they shelter. Space thus becomes the name of this dwelling that gathers-shelters the transversing/passing of the world, the earth, the mortals and the gods.

This means that the bodilyness of bodies is co-originary with their wordliness. We could say that embodiment is worlding, and worlding is embodiment. This means a body is thus all through its world. I can’t be before my kitchen table, on which my laptop sits, without at the same time being in front of the window, while also being on the other side of it, on which seat my daughter and wife as they chat in the afternoon shade. My body radiates, as Mitchell puts it. My world suffuses my body, and my body soaks my world. This is why we can talk about the haunting of rooms by someone’s absent presence. Even as the loved one has left one’s bed, but her aroma lingers and her warm clings to the sheets, her body still radiates in the intimacy of the space she has worlded. She is still there as the trails of her radiating body. We are in the world, with other beings, whose world is also mine. It is their world. It is their body. It is their worlding. My world is not only mine, nor is theirs only their. Our flesh is always someone else’s flesh. Our world, is always someone’s else world. Mitchell thus, shows us how a left-Heideggerianism is not only possible, but perhaps in today’s world, both inevitable and, most importantly, indispensable.

Still, questions linger, resounding, and if not lingering, they must be asked and made to resound loudly in our worlding spacing. I will simply name them, and then give them voice. First, there is the question of what Theodore Kisiel has called Heidegger’s ‘geopolitics.’[1] Second, there is the question of the historicality of spacing, or the ways in which space is always the trace of a particular historical project that is also at the same time the trace of a certain kind of affect. Thirdly, we must ask about technology and space, or the ways in which technology is implicated in space as mediation, or space as the in-between.

Now, with respect to the first question, we should only note that Heidegger was not only engaged in mapping Dasein’s spatiality, but also a certain Greco-Germanic spatializing of world history. If for Hegel world history is mapped from East to West, arriving at the heart of Europe, in the Prussian state, for Heidegger, the history of the event begins in Athens and ends somewhere in the Black Forest. Even as we learn to think space as spacing, worlding as a spatializing, we can’t overlook that Heidegger remained snared in a certain Greecophilia and Germanonphilia that is linked to a spatializing of Being. What Europe was to Hegel, Germany is to Heidegger, namely a privileged space/place for the event of Being’s granting/withdrawing. This cannot be called by any other name other than this: Eurocentrism, or Germanocentrism. But evidently, this cannot be the case if we are consequent to the spatializing of Dasein’s worlding. How can we find resources in the late Heidegger to think as if were beyond both multiple Eurocentrisms and varigated Orientalism? Fortunately, we already have an indication how this may be accomplished by way of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Toward a History of the Vanishing Present (Harvard University Press, 1999)

With respect to the second question, we should note that Heidegger’s early and late work was both public phobic and anti-urban. Heidegger chose to ‘stay in the province’—to echo the title of one of his essays–and his philosophy idealized and ideologized the rural solitude of the peasant. Heidegger’s later conception of space as the in-betweeness, as thickened mediality, is surely the space of the intimacy of strangers, who world with, against, through, but nonetheless for each other. How can we translate Heidegger’s late work into a celebration of worlding co-existence that is attentive not simply to the earth, but also to the historically embedded traces of affect that render some social spaces uninhabitable, or literally, suicidal. As Peter Sloterdijk has noted, if space is the trace of Dasein’s wordling, there is a way in which such worlding can also become genocidal, or more precisely, that some forms of Dasein’s worlding can turn space into a weapon[2]. Dasein can weaponize space, as it weaponizes itself. And race, in my analysis, is one such weaponization of the worlding spacing of Dasein, which is of a certain type of being in the world[3]. Racism is a spatializing of being-with, and race is the trace of its operation.

Finally, while Mitchell does talk about the tools of the artist as themselves being parts of the thinging of the thing, the gathering preserving that shelters the thing, we must ask about the ways in which “different” technologies are always already entwined with the worlding of Dasein. If Dasein is not in space, but is of space, then, in parallel, Dasein is not in technology, but of technology. In other words, Dasein’s does not simply world, it worlds through and with its technology. To world is to world technologically. We could appropriate Derrida’s language here and talk about technosomaticity and the worlding bodying forth of a technologically embodied body. How can we account for the role of technology in this later conception of space as both thickened mediality and the inbetweeness of worlding that belong together? We know that technology can bring together and into closer proximity, but also distance and separate abysmally. How can we make better sense of technology’s role in this spacing or spatializing/worlding?

Eduardo Mendieta, Department of Philosophy, Harriman Hall 250, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY 11794-3750


1  See: Kisiel T 2001 Heidegger’s Philosophical Geopolitics in the Third Reich. In: R Polt and G Fried (eds) A Companion to Heidegger’s Introduction to Metaphysics. New Haven: Yale University Press, 226-249.

2  See: Sloterdijk P 2009 Airquakes. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 27(1): 41 – 57; and Terror from the Air 2009 New York: Semiotext(e).

3 For expansion on this issue, see: Mendieta E 2004 Plantations, Ghettos, Prisons: US Racial Geographies. Philosophy & Geography 7(1): 43-60.

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